Capitalizing on the attention of Safeway announcing its new directive regarding gestation-sow housing, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released an undercover video on Tuesday that was shot at Wyoming Premium Farms (WPF) in April. Further investigations are underway.

Located near Wheatland, Wyo., the sow, breeding, gestation and farrowing unit is owned by Itoham Corp., a Japanese company with U.S. headquarters in Denver, Colo. WPF’s Wheatland location is reported to have an average of 11,000 to 13,800 sows and piglets on site at any given time. WPF has three other sites Wyoming, all of which are owned by Itoham America.

HSUS told Pork Network that the investigator worked at the site for 27 days. WPF indicates that the undercover investigator was a woman. The video focuses on gestation-sow stalls and the workers mis-handling of sows and piglets. Among the images are downed and injured sows, a sow with a prolapsed uterus, piglets being tossed and swung by legs and ears. (Click here to view the video.)

HSUS contends that some hogs from the Wheaton WPF site have been sold to Tyson Foods, for processing. It points to a copy of a WPF “cull sheet” showing the sale of culled sows to Heinold Markets in April. Heinold Markets is a subsidiary of Tyson Foods. HSUS is a Tyson shareholder and has attempted to pressure the company into implementing a ban on the use of gestation-sow stalls.

On its website, HSUS also is encouraging the public to contact Tyson Foods, and provides the following message: “I'm greatly concerned by Tyson's refusal to follow other pork companies' lead and develop a plan for getting gestation crates out of your supply chain. Like most people, I care about animals and want farm animals to be treated well. I hope you'll commit to ending your suppliers' use of cruel gestation crates.”

In response to whether it buys and processes hogs from the WPF site in question, Tyson said in a statement: “We do have a small, but separate hog buying business that buys aged sows; however, these animals are subsequently sold to other companies and are not used in Tyson’s pork processing business.”

Regarding the video, Tyson’s statement said: “We’ve seen the video and we are appalled by the apparent mistreatment of the animals. We do not condone for any reason this kind of mistreatment of animals shown in the video.

“Virtually all of the hogs Tyson buys for our processing plants come from thousands of independent farm families who use both individual and group housing. We require all hog farmers who supply us to be certified in the pork industry’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus program, which incorporates rigid animal well-being standards and is part of the industry’s ‘We Care’ responsible pork initiative. We validate enrollment and audit conformance to these standards. Farms that do not conform will be eliminated from our supply chain.”

Wyoming state livestock officials are investigating the allegations of animal abuse, according to CBS4, a Denver television station.

“I would anticipate there might be charges,” Jimmy Siler, an investigator with the Wyoming Livestock Board told CBS4. “I hope we’d have some answers in the next couple days….It was probably not proper handling of the animals. If I’m a producer I wouldn’t want my workers handling my product that way.”

While, not available for comment, WPF released a statement attributed to Doug DeRouchey, which included:  “The video of a Wyoming Premium Farms sow barn posted online this morning by HSUS shows some practices that are not and will not be tolerated. The owners and managers of the farm are investigating the incidents shown in the video and wish to assure everyone we will take action to correct all problems and to deal appropriately with any employees that were involved.”

The Wyoming Livestock Board received the video last Friday and informed WPF of the video on Monday, which WPF representatives then reviewed. However, DeRouchey contends that the video WPF saw “did not contain some of the disturbing scenes shown in the video HSUS put online this morning.”

WPF has since held meetings with farm managers and workers as well as the company’s consulting veterinarian. A third-party audit of animal handling and care protocols is scheduled.

 “We take the pork industry’s We Care initiative seriously and are committed to the well-being of all our animals and to the safety of our workers…we will swiftly address any problems that are identified,” DeRouchey said.

The National Pork Producers Council agreed that the video “shows practices that are abhorrent to U.S. pork producers…Providing humane and compassionate care for their pigs at every stage of life is one of the ethical principles to which U.S. pork producers adhere. U.S. pork producers are committed to caring for animals in a way that protects their well-being.

“Just as it is to others, mistreatment of animals is appalling to pork producers. We do not defend and will not accept mistreatment of animals…Individuals responsible for willful abuse of animals must be held accountable.”

An Animal Care Review Panel, organized by The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) is analyzing the actions shown in the HSUS undercover video and will release a response. “This process engages recognized animal care specialists to examine video and provide expert perspectives for food retailers, the pork industry and the media,” CFI explains.

The panel includes a veterinarian, an ethicist and an animal scientist:

•    Dr. Temple Grandin, animal scientist and animal-handling expert, Colorado State University
•    Dr. Candace Croney, ethicist, Purdue University
•    Dr. John Deen, DVM, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine

CFI officials emphasize that the panel works without involvement of national species organizations. CFI will release the panel’s analysis within 48 hours.